Varlamov outstanding in blanking of Rangers as Caps climb back into series

NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin proved that the Washington Capitals still have plenty of playoff life even though he's still searching for his first postseason goal.

Ovechkin did plenty Monday night without finding the back of the net, and the Capitals knocked back the upstart New York Rangers with a solid 4-0 victory. Washington rebounded from a pair of frustrating home losses, got to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and cut its series deficit to 2-1.

"It was an important game, but it's over," said Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 56 regular-season goals. "It's done. It's history. And we have to battle next game."

Ovechkin went a third game without a goal, but earned two assists for the second-seeded Capitals, who dominated the No. 7 Rangers.

Behind 33 saves from 20-year-old Simeon Varlamov, the Capitals moved into position to tie the Eastern Conference matchup Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

"We had some lucky goals," said Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin's linemate who had three assists. "It's just one game. We have to regroup and come back Wednesday.

"We worked harder and we had to fight for our lives."

Despite playing only six career NHL games, Varlamov made a surprise start in Game 2 after Jose Theodore was ineffective in the opener. He was the hard-luck loser in New York's 1-0 victory and earned the nod again. Varlamov, 4-0-1 in the regular season, made coach Bruce Boudreau's decision look brilliant with the help of Washington's potent attack.

"He's played in the finals of the Russian elite league, which to him is probably like our Stanley Cup," Boudreau said. "He's played in the world championship, and the fact that he doesn't understand a word we're saying probably really helps him."

After being held to three goals in two games, one at even strength, the Capitals showed how they ranked third in the NHL in scoring during the regular season.

Ovechkin cut down on his shooting after recording 19 shots in the first two games and having another 17 attempts blocked, and showed off his passing skills. He earned assists on Alexander Semin's two goals in the first period and was on the ice when Brooks Laich added a power-play tally in the second.

Former Rangers defenseman Tom Poti also scored a power-play goal with 1:25 left.

Ovechkin recorded five shots and was everywhere, even chasing down Lauri Korpikoski on a short-handed breakaway. At the end of a shift, Ovechkin dived from behind and deftly knocked the puck off Korpikoski's stick.

"You see the effort that he's putting in," Boudreau said. "It was a tremendous leadership play, and that's why he is who he is."

It was a fine ending to Ovechkin's day after he was shooed away from the Capitals bench in the morning when he took a seat to watch the Rangers practice. He joked that New York was afraid of him, and then gave the Rangers reason to be.

Ovechkin took the Rangers apart with the pass. He earned the second assist on Semin's first goal and made the final pass in front to set up Semin's second of the night and third straight for the Capitals in the series.

New York coach John Tortorella cautioned that the Rangers won the first two games despite not having the puck enough. That trend continued in the opening period, and they paid for it.

"They played very well defensively and I thought we stunk defensively," Tortorella said. "That was the key to the game. They defended very well in front of their net and we were chasing our tail all night long -- spinning and watching the puck."

Backstrom, Semin's new linemate, found him with a cross-ice pass into the lower right circle for a shot that made it 1-0 at 6:57. Semin snapped the Capitals' scoreless drought at 85 minutes, 15 seconds -- dating to his early third-period goal in Game 1.

The Rangers nearly tied it when Markus Naslund's shot from the right circle was stopped by Varlamov, and the rebound came to Ryan Callahan on the other side, but his drive at the open side hit the left post with 8:38 left.

Washington raced the other way, as the crowd groaned at the missed chance to tie. Backstrom sent a pass from the left-wing boards to Ovechkin at the goal line. He spotted Semin in front for a quick redirect that made it 2-0 just 14 seconds after Callahan's miss.

"It definitely changed the momentum," Callahan said. "At the same time, the game is not over in the first period. We had to be better after that."

Lundqvist made 36 saves and did all he could to keep the Caps at bay, kicking out his legs, sprawling on his stomach and back and diving post to post. His best stop came when he denied Tomas Fleischmann's mini breakaway, making the save as he fell forward with 12:21 left in the second.

"It felt like they had a little more power out there," Lundqvist said. "We had two great games on the road, but we knew it would be tougher to win this one."

Washington pushed the lead to 3-0 with 8:31 remaining in the second when Laich cleaned up a loose puck at the right post after Semin bounced a shot off Lundqvist's pads.

Game notes
The Capitals had lost Game 3 the four previous times they trailed 2-0. They are 11-19 overall in Game 3s. ... The Rangers have dropped three straight Game 3s and are 32-43 overall.